Data analysis finds pizza restaurants are emitting significant amounts of dangerous particulates – should they be regulated?
Trendy wood-fired pizza ovens could release the same amount of deadly fine particulate air pollution into Bristol every hour as hundreds of diesel cars driving continuously, an analysis has shown.
Research by the Cable has identified 20 restaurants in the city centre using wood-fired pizza ovens. The figure of all restaurants and commercial establishments using solid fuel, such as charcoal grills and coffee roasters, is likely to be much higher.
When all the restaurants have their wood ovens lit, it could release the same amount of harmful particulate matter into Bristol’s air every hour as 360 new diesel cars driving continuously for the same time, according to calculations based on data from the government’s Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG).
According to a 2017 report into the air quality impacts of biomass by the AQEG, the cleanest and most modern single stove, burning the best wood in laboratory conditions, produces the same amount of particulates every hour as 18 new diesel cars or six new diesel heavy goods vehicles.
Commercial pizza ovens are likely to have a greater burning capacity than home stoves, meaning these figures are likely to be underestimates.
Stuart Phelps, of Residents Against Dirty Energy (RADE) Bristol which campaigns against urban wood burning, said: “This is an unnecessary public health crisis where the victims have no say or redress unless people stop buying wood-burned food.”
The 20 restaurants identified had combined weekly opening hours of 1,332. “Commercial ovens are likely to be on six days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Home fires will only be used during cold spells,” Phelps points out.
Woodsmoke under scrutiny around the world
Wood smoke has come under increasing scrutiny as it produces high volumes of PM2.5, which has been linked with heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and dementia. Due to the microscopic size of PM2.5, its harmful particles can penetrate deep into our bodies once breathed in, affecting all of our organs.
The use of solid fuel burning in commercial premises has recently begun to receive international attention, as awareness of the air pollution crises facing cities around the world grows.
Studies into the impact of pizzarias, bagel houses and other urban, commercial establishments have taken place in Italy, Canada and Brazil. Leaders in Montreal, Canada, are considering a ban on such cooking methods to get air pollution under control.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for a ban on wood-fired cooking, provoking outrage from industry. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has alluded to lobbying government for powers to take action on wood burning stoves, but did not specify between domestic and commercial usage.
Phelps said: “RADE supports the idea to remove what is a very prehistoric and dangerous form of heating from the air. In terms of whether it should apply to commercial establishments, as well as homes – it should.”
Dr Jo Barnes, senior research fellow at the Air Quality Management Resource Centre at the University of the West of England, explained that PM2.5 is a very fine, microscopic dust that is released in high volumes in wood smoke.
Dr Barnes said: “The concern with particulate matter is that, once these very fine particles get into the bloodstream, the evidence is growing that they impact on all of our organs; from the brain, right through to our reproductive system.”
When asked if people living near restaurants using wood-burning ovens should be concerned for their health, Dr Barnes replied: “Potentially, yes. If the oven is on every day, it could be having an impact.”
Of the 20 restaurants we identified, the vast majority were small, independent business, many of whom were proud to use authentic cooking methods and fresh, local ingredients — not the usual targets in air pollution crackdowns.
But Phelps does not feel that people should be too sympathetic. “Let’s be honest, the reason that a business uses a wood-fired oven is for a commercial advantage," he said. “The neighbours don’t get a choice, especially with such a competitive rental sector in Bristol.
“There are people who have to burn wood, otherwise they freeze. But poverty is the only excuse for burning wood in Bristol.”
Avoiding patronising restaurants using wood fired ovens is part of RADE’s ‘Bristol Pledge’, which has already been backed by three local MPs and MEP Molly Scott Cato.
If you are concerned about air pollution near you, contact Bristol City Council via email@example.com or 0117 922 2000.
An abridged version of this story appeared in Summer 2019 print edition with the headline “Those delicious wood-fired pizzas are as polluting as tens of thousands of diesel cars”. This headline was based on a previous calculation concerning longer time periods which has since been updated.